Using Children’s Biographies as Living Books

Living books are most often associated with the Charlotte Mason methodology. But all homeschoolers – and all children, for that matter – benefit from using living books in their education journey. 

Using Childrens Biographies as Living Books

I consider us an eclectic homeschooling family, pulling from each methodology what we consider to be the best resources or those that my children enjoy most. Living books are one of those resources.

(Learn more about Charlotte Mason methodology and how it compares to other homeschool methods.)

What are Living Books?

According to Charlotte Mason’s website, a book must meet a list of criteria to be considered a living book. These criteria are:

  1. The book must be written by an author who is considered an expert and/or is passionate about the subject. Or it may be written by someone who has experienced the story first hand.
  2. The text must be well written – no “twaddle” allowed! This means that there should be good flow, and include challenging words, especially those terms that pertain to the subject. Typically, the text is presented in a narrative manner. A book with short, choppy sentences or that relays facts and other information impersonally is not considered a living book.
  3. The story engages its readers and captures their imagination. It leaves them yearning to know more about the subject. 

Picture Book Biographies

In our homeschool, picture book biographies have often been a mainstay. We’ll read a book that is related to the concept we’re studying and the subsequent lessons will center around the person/topics in the book. The great thing about picture book biographies is that the publisher or author will often provide lesson plans and additional materials to accompany the book. But if not, don’t be afraid to design your own by pulling together related resources or just writing it up yourself!

What I love most about picture book biographies is that they almost always fit the criteria for living books. Over the years, we’ve really enjoyed many beautifully written children’s books. And so many more have been published since my older children were little.

I’ve put together a list of some amazing picture book biographies that can certainly be considered living books for you to consider in your homeschool. This list will get you started, or simply make wonderful additions to your home library.

Living Picture Books for Science

Mario and the Hole in the Sky by Elizabeth Rusch 

This is the story of Dr. Mario José Molina, one of the chemists who discovered the deleterious effects that CFCs were having on the Earth’s ozone layer. He helped changed the world with his discovery and advocacy. 

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca

Dr. Temple Grandin is one of the most influential scientists today. She was diagnosed with severe autism as a young girl. But she grew up to change the landscape of modern livestock management with her insights and ideas for improved animal care.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

Dr. Jane Goodall is the most recognized primatologist in the world. Her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees eventually led to her becoming one of the most outspoken advocates for conservation. 

Sharuko: Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello by Monica Brown

Considered the father of Peruvian archeology, Julio C. Tello was the first indigenous archaeologist. He is known for telling the story of Peru from a Native viewpoint, instead of a Western lens. His research stressed the importance of consulting members of living cultures to understand their ancestors.

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins 

Katherine Olivia Sessions was a botanist, horticulturist, and landscape architect. She is responsible for planting more than 300 trees throughout the city of San Diego. Her love of plants greatly impacted the city.

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton

Lonnie Johnson is an inventor and aerospace engineer who spent more than 12 years working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But his biggest claim to fame is the Super Soaker water gun!

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating

Eugenie Clark was a scientist who studied fish (ichthyologist), but her expertise was in shark behavior. She built the Mote Marine Laboratory, which became a basis for marine research and her work had a huge impact on marine science.

The Boy Who Touched the Stars by José M. Hernández

José Moreno Hernández is an American engineer and former NASA astronaut. He’s also one of the developers of the first full-field digital mammography imaging system. His work has saved many lives, and his dedication to social justice continues to impact others.

Living Picture Books for Math

The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca

Raye Montague was an American naval engineer. She was the first person to design a Naval ship using a computer. And she became the U.S. Navy’s first female program manager of ships.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman

Paul Erdos was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century. He founded the field of discrete mathematics, which is the basis of computer science. Erdos was a prolific writer and published more papers on math than almost any other mathematician. 

Charles Babbage and the Curious Computer: The Time-Twisters Series by Laura Borio 

Charles Babbage is considered the father of computers. He was a British mathematician who designed and partly built the Analytical Engine, which is often referred to as the first computer.

Ada Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark

Ada Byron Lovelace was a mathematician, analyst, and writer. A friend of Charles Babbage, she realized that the Analytical Engine could potentially follow complex mathematical equations and wrote one for it. As a result, she is considered the first computer programmer. 

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker

Katherine Johnson was a trailblazing mathematician whose ability to calculate trajectories made many of NASA’s crewed space flights a success. She is one of the subjects of the book and movie, Hidden Figures.

Living Picture Books for Literature

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown

Pablo Neruda was a poet and diplomat from Chile. His poems have moved and inspired people all around the world. He used his poetry to champion social change. And he is considered the most important Latin American poet of the 20th century.

Becoming Emily: The Life of Emily Dickinson by Krystyna Poray Goddu

Emily Dickinson is considered one of America’s greatest poets. Her life is mostly a mystery, which shows the talent and research that Goddu put into this book. 

I Begin with Spring: The Life and Seasons of Henry David Thoreau by Julie Dunlap

A naturalist, poet, and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau is best remembered for his book, Walden. This book gives a chronology of his life while gently introducing children to climate change. 

Scribbles, Sorrows, and Russet Leather Boots: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Liz Rosenberg

Louisa May Alcott was a poet, novelist, and short story writer. She’s best known for writing Little Women, which she didn’t want to write. But quickly did so to help her father, whose own book would only be published if she agreed to write a book for young girls.

Do you use living picture books in your homeschool? What are some of your favorites?

Monica Olivera

About the author

Monica Olivera is an author, freelance education writer, and homeschooling mom. Her site helps Hispanic parents and homeschoolers get more involved in their children's education by providing resources, tips, and opportunities. Her education articles have appeared in numerous online sites such as NBCNews,, and PBSParents.

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